Involving children in preparing healthy meals makes learning fun

Life-Based Learning (LBL) is predicated on the idea that we must put children at the heart of long-term strategies that aim to tackle the immense challenges of the coming decades — everything from improving health and wellbeing to safeguarding nature and the environment. The recently published National Food Strategy does this: five of its 14 recommendations focus specifically on children. Involving children in planning and preparing healthy meals is a great way to encourage them to think about healthy eating and makes learning fun and memorable.

The National Food Strategy, an independent report, was commissioned in 2019 by the UK government and was led by Henry Dimbleby. Of its four main objectives, one focuses on ensuring that a future food strategy is environmentally friendly and sustainable, and the other three relate very directly to what we teach children and the support we offer to families:

  • Escaping the junk-food cycle to protect the NHS
  • Reducing diet-related inequality
  • Creating a long-term shift in the UK’s food culture

Dimbleby makes the scale and urgency of the problem clear:

Children’s diets are not good enough. Childhood obesity rates more than double during primary school. On average, children of primary and secondary school age eat less than half of the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and no age group or income quintile meets the recommendation. The shortfall is worst in teenagers. This is not only a problem in childhood but also leads to long-term issues: a childhood diet low in fruits and vegetables is linked to increased cardiovascular risk in adults. Good nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight in childhood help prevent obesity and diet-related ill health later in life.

from Recommendation 3 of the National Food Strategy

In a nod to Ofsted-speak, the report damningly labels the government’s approach to food education as ‘inadequate’ and implementation of the 2014 School Food Plan as ‘weak’. “There is no national champion for food education, no team responsible in DfE or Ofsted, no monitoring at a national level, and no subject reviews or research as there are in other subjects.”

Among many eye-catching proposals is a recommendation for an ‘Eat and Learn’ initiative, which “would make learning to eat well part of every child’s school experience”. As noted in our recent blog on the National Food Strategy, the report calls for a concerted whole-school approach to food education that is exactly in line with the aims and ambitions of Life-Based Learning. Other recommendations relate to support for families on low incomes, including the idea of a ‘Community Eatwell’ programme to provide targeted healthy-eating support.

In our blog Ready Steady Cook! Empowering children to eat healthily we argued that food education and healthy eating must be at the heart of any long-term strategy for improving children’s physical wellbeing. The LBL approach, designed for pre-teenage children, organises learning around three elements:

  • knowledge
  • knowhow
  • practice

The LBL approach integrates the subjects of the traditional curriculum into nine life-learning themes — of which The Body is one — putting life itself at the heart of learning. The Body learning programme includes teaching children about nutrition and healthy eating as well as helping them to learn the basics of how to cook healthy meals, as outlined in the national curriculum design and technology subject.

  • learning about the importance of healthy eating — knowledge
  • learning how to cook healthy meals — knowhow
  • applying the knowledge and knowhow — practice

The ‘practice’ element is crucial. Active learning — actively engaging children by doing and experiencing — makes learning fun, helps to embed new knowledge and enables them to see the practical, real-world relevance of their learning. There are plenty of websites packed with information, advice and guidance for parents not just about how to encourage children to eat healthily but also how to involve children in planning and preparing healthy meals. Here are three. You can find many more, relating to all nine LBL themes, in the Links area of our website.

Read More About Physical Health

Image at the head of this article by Katja Fissel from Pixabay.

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